An Incredible Journey: Seahorse in the News

I’m a sucker for animal stories in the news.  This morning I came across this short article in a news feed.  I found it pretty amazing and worthy of sharing here on the blog. Most of the stories we see in the news are about dogs, cats, and other furry creatures, and while I love them all the same, it is nice to read a story about one of our tiny ocean friends that is just as amazing and inspiring.

The story is about a tough little seahorse that (it is assumed) was picked up by a seagull on the British coast and dropped three miles inland.  The incredible thing is the amazing little lady survived the ordeal!  The species, Hippocampus guttulatus, is native to the southern and western coastlines of the isles in eel grass beds.  These rare Seahorses are currently being tagged and researched in hopes of preserving their dwindling populations.  The destruction of their natural habitat by anchors and boats is currently the biggest threat they face.  This one is super lucky to be alive!

You can read the full story here:

And for more on the current research and conservation of seahorse species:

An Aquarist’s Glossary of Terms – Part 2

Check out the 1st part of Eileen’s Aquarist’s Glossary of Terms here.

Water chemistry terms:


  •  Alkalinity: Alkalinity is often confused with pH or water hardness. In technical terms, the alkalinity is the ability of a solution to neutralize acid. In an aquarium, this can be seen in changes in pH. The higher the alkalinity, the more difficult it is for the pH to change. pH levels above neutral (7.0 on a scale of 0-14) are also said to be “alkaline” or “basic” as opposed to levels below neutral are considered acidic.
  • Brackish: Brackish environments are those found in between freshwater and saltwater environments and have a specific gravity of about 1.005 to 1.015 or a salinity of 0.5-30 ppt (parts per thousand). Common brackish water environments related to the aquarium trade are mangrove swamps, estuaries and bays.
  • Carbon Dioxide: Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a compound used by plants to produce oxygen in photosynthesis and a byproduct of respiration in which oxygen is used. CO2 levels are important to monitor in heavily planted freshwater aquariums but are not as important in unplanted freshwater aquariums or in saltwater systems.
  • Freshwater: Freshwater is water that does not have a significant salt level and is typically of most river or lake environments. Common freshwater environments that many aquarium-trade fish can be found in are the the Amazon River, African Rift Lakes, Australian rivers and South and Central American rivers. These are also referred to as aquatic environments.
  • Nitrogen Cycle: The Nitrogen Cycle is used to descripe the process of converting ammonia (NH4+) to nitrite(NO2) to nitrate (NO3). This process happens in any environment with organisms that produce ammonia and is conducted by nitrifying bacteria (nitrosomonas and nitrobacter). The levels of these three compounds are some of the most universal and important levels to monitor in home aquariums as they can be toxic to aquarium animals. Ammonia and nitrite can be especially toxic as they affect the ability of an animal’s gills to function correctly and the ability of an animial to absorb oxygen into its bloodstream. This is also known as the “Cycling Process” of an aquarium and can take 4-6 weeks in new aquariums or aquariums in which the biological filtration has been destroyed by water changes, medications or another cause.
  • Ozone: Ozone (O3) is a molecule made up of three oxygen atoms instead of the more stable 2-atom molecule (O2). In aquariums and ponds, ozone is used to help control bacteria, disease and algae growth, to help remove very tiny debris particles from the water and for several other purposes. An “ozonizer” is used to pump a controlled amount of ozne into the aquarium. This is safe for most aquarium species (some animals like sharks can be very sensitive to ozone) but can quickly dry out and crack some rubber materials like tubing. Silicone tubing should be used with ozone and ozonizers.
  • pH: The pH level is, technically speaking, the amount of free hydrogen ions in a substance. The pH level is calculated using mathematical logarithms and does not have a unit of measurement. This scale is measured from 0 to 14 (or -1 to 14 in some scientific circles) with 7.0 being considered “neutral”. Levels above 7.0 are considered “Basic” or “alkaline” while levels under 7.0 are considered “acidic”. Some common pH ranges in the aquarium trade are 8.0-8.4 for marine systems, 6.8-7.4 for most tropical freshwater fish like those from the Amazon River, and 7.8-8.4 for African Cichlids from Lake Malawi and Lake Victoria.
  • Phosphate: Phosphate (PO4) has many uses, from glass production and fertilizers to matches and fireworks. An excess of this nutrient in freshwater or saltwater systems can cause algae blooms, usually characterized by green water or greenish or blackish films on surfaces. It can be removed by special filters or filter media and usually enters an aquarium through overfeeding with phosphate-rich foods or though source water with high phosphate levels like well water or in heavily agricultural areas.
  • Salinity/ Specific Gravity: Both of these terms are used to describe and measure the amount of salt in water. “Salinity” is mainly used in more scientific measurements and measures the amount of salt in parts per thousand (ppt or 0/00). “Specific gravity” is more common in the aquarium trade and measures the density of a substance compared to pure water (since this “measurement” is actually a comparison, it does not have a unit of measure like “ppt” in salinity). Salinity is commonly measured using weight, chemical tests or refraction (the water’s ability to bend light waves); Specific gravity is measured using a hydrometer (a device that measures buoyancy to determine density). Marine aquariums usually have a salinity of 30-35ppt or a specific gravity of around 1.020-1.025
  • Saltwater: Saltwater environments are those with a specific gravity of 1.018 or higher, or with a salinity of 30 ppt (parts per thousand) or higher. This is the environment found in oceans and seas around the world and is home to coral reefs. The term “marine” is also used to refer to anything pertaining to these environments.
  • Water Hardness: Water Hardness is a measure of the amount of minerals dissolved in the water, especially Calcium and Magnesium. Like alkalinity, the water hardness affects the stability of water – the chemistry of soft water is much easier to change than hard water. Some fish like Discus or most tetras prefer soft water while others like African cichlids and Bettas thrive in hard water. Working with the hardness of your water when choosing fish and maintaining an aquarium can be far less stressful than trying to change it. Water hardness is usually measured two ways – General Hardness and Carbonate Hardness. Both are usually measured using liquid test kits and a method called “titration” – adding small amounts of solvent to a solution until and endpoint like a color change is reach.
  • General Hardness is usually measures in degrees (dGH or ºGH). 1 dGH is equal to 10 milligrams of calcium oxide per liter of water or 17.848 ppm. “Very soft” water is defined as 0.4 dGH, “Soft water” is 4-8 dGH, “Slightly Hard” water is 8-12 dGH, “Moderately hard” is 12-18 dGH, and “Hard” water is 18 dGH or higher.

The Carbonate Hardness (KH) is closely related to the General Hardness but is a measure only of the calcium carbonate (CaCO3), not of the other minerals present. This is usually more important in saltwater aquariums than in freshwater since most saltwater invertebrates have skeletons or shells made up of primarily calcium carbonate. The GH and KH are usually close but can be different, depending on the minerals present.

The Natural and Unnatural History of the Koi Pond at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

Brooklyn Botanical Gardens OverviewI have always looked to public aquariums and botanical gardens for inspiration in my own work.  I have visited koi ponds in many places, including some of the famed beauties in Kyoto, Japan (I plan an article on these shortly), but my favorite is, oddly enough, located in the heart of Brooklyn, NY. 

Koi and Cherry Blossoms

The 52-acre Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, opened in 1910, houses a huge, spectacular pond, home to some of the largest and oldest koi to be found anywhere.  The surrounding grounds are planted with 42 varieties of cherry trees, all of which bloom in April and May…seeing this spectacle in combination with schools of colorful koi is an experience of a lifetime (the garden hosts the largest cherry blossom festival, or Sakura Matsuri, to be found outside of Japan).

A rainy spring day many years ago granted me my first look at a koi breeding frenzy…I had previously observed hundreds of carp spawning in the Bronx River, and was suitably impressed (some of these lunkers topped 40 pounds in weight!) but the roiling, colorful koi put their drab ancestors to shame.

An Urban Legend Revealed

I was first drawn to BBG in search of the huge soft-shelled turtles which were said to inhabit the koi pond.  Less cynical than most of my fellow New Yorkers, I had since childhood followed up on any and all reports of urban wildlife, however fanciful.  I had some pleasant discoveries – copperhead snakes did indeed live under the George Washington Bridge and sturgeon still swim the East River, and some disappointments – Flushing Meadow’s “lungfishes” turned out to be American eels.

I found 135 red-eared sliders and several snapping turtles in the pond, but the soft shells eluded me for decades.  Then, while having lunch near the pond (I was working at the nearby Prospect Park Zoo at the time) I spied two huge spiny soft-shelled turtles (Apalone spinifera) basking on a small island.  They remain the largest I’ve ever seen (fish a favorite food!), and must have been living there for upwards of 50 years.  Although native to New York State, spiny soft-shells are quite rare here, and never seen anywhere near NYC. 

Piranha, Osprey and Other Visitors

I enjoy visiting areas that serve as retreats for urban wildlife, and have had many wonderful surprises along the way.  BBG is an important resting place for migrating birds, with over 200 species having been recorded.  The koi pond also yields some surprising visitors from time to time – including “transplanted” bass, sunfish, eels and red-bellied piranha!

Ospreys have made a major comeback in the USA, and are now seen quite near New York and other coastal cities.  Last spring a pair under camera surveillance in Norwalk, CT (The Maritime Aquarium) were regularly observed to bring quite large (and expensive!) koi to their chicks…I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until these huge “fish hawks” visit Brooklyn! 

 Further Reading

You can learn more about the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s koi pond and amazing plant collection (10,000 species at last count) at

Please write in with your questions and comments.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

A Word About Water Hyacinth

water hyacinchPatty here. Just about anyone with an ornamental pond has either heard of water hyacinth or has a personal experience with hyacinth to share.  I find it to be an interesting and useful plant, and here in PA we don’t have to worry about its invasive tendencies and notorious reputation like those of you in warmer climates.  I thought I’d give a little background on this floater to help you get to know it better.

Water Hyacinth Cross SectionWater Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is native to tropical South America where it forms vast mats on the water’s surface.  It is sun and heat loving and can reproduce at a ridiculous rate by producing long runners and stolons, which is why it is cosidered a noxious and invasive species in many states and countries.  They can double in population within about two weeks if the conditions are right!

hyacinth root structureIt has unique structure.  Each leaf has a spongy bulb which allows it to float on the surface, and the leaves have a waxy, waterproof feel.  The root system hangs in a long-stranded cluster beneath each plant, and the roots are white to dark purple-brown and very hairy.  These plants also produce beautiful flowers in the peak of summer, a cluster of light purple flowers with six petals each and a violet and yellow accent on the top petal of each flower.

Hyacinth does have its notorious side, and the reputation is well-deserved.  However, in cooler climates, and with responsible management this plant has carved out a valuable niche.  Because hyacinth grows and reproduces so rapidly, it makes a terrific solution to provide shade on ornamental ponds.  Two to three single plants is usually way more than enough to cover a broad area of water surface within a few short weeks, ad it will be necessary to prune the mat to keep the population in check.  The floating mat is a refuge for pond fish and frogs, a food source, and a form of natural, efficient biological filtration. 

The foliage and blossoms are as pretty as they are useful, but the roots are the real prize.  Not only do they provide a surface for fish to deposit eggs, but they serve as a safe haven for fry, tadpoles, and other organisms as they grow.   They have the ability to remove toxins, excess nutrients, and other compounds from the water and have even been used in industrial water treatment applications.  Hyacinth helps to oxygenate, and can even be placed in the filter’s sump as long as there is enough sun!

Hyacinth can be purchased for use in garden ponds in most aquatic garden and pond centers.  We sell it out of our retail location, but do not ship it. It is actually prohibited in many southern states.  If you choose to introduce hyacinth to your pond, don’t overdo it, purchase 2-3 plants, and see how they grow!  Provide them with plenty of sun, and protect the plants from your fish (who will think they are delicious) until they start to reproduce.  And as always, be careful and responsible if you need to dispose of extra hyacinth to ensure that they don’t find their way into natural ponds and waterways.

HR 669 Update

Hi Dave here, just wanted to post an update to Frank Indivigio’s blog about HR 669, the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act.  As many of you know, HR 669 was introduced into Congress this past January, and went to committee hearing on April 23rd.

As I listened to the hearings, it quickly became clear that the committee members had received a great deal of response from both the pet industry and pet owners regarding the bill.  I would like to thank all of those who have read our blog, and contacted the committee members, and those who put a great deal of effort into raising awareness for opposition to HR 669 as it is written.

Click here to actually see footage from within the government offices in deliberation.

Collectively our voices have been heard.  Marshall Meyers, Chief Executive Officer and General Counsel of PIJAC ( Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council), who was present and testified on behalf of the pet industry and pet owners before the committee, stated “It is clear that Committee members from both sides of the aisle heard from the pet owning public about their concerns with this bill.” And that the committee members received thousands of phone calls, letters, and emails from groups and individuals about their concerns over the current form of HR 669.  Meyers added, “We’re extremely grateful to the thousands of groups who galvanized their members leading up to yesterday’s hearing”

Check back with us on our blogs, we will update with any new news regarding HR 669.  And again, thank you for your support in opposition to HR 669